New Internationalist

Policing The Multinationals

Issue 129

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DUMPING [image, unknown] What can be done?

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Policing the multinationals
Dumping by multinational companies calls for a multinational response. On this page we look at Consumer Interpol, a major whistle-blowing network, and other public interest groups who work on dumping and related issues.

[image, unknown] THE idea of a policing system on the export of dangerous products has been around for some time. An initiative to stop dumping between European countries was made in the 1970s - see below - ‘Bureau Europeén des Unions des Consommateurs’. And the International Labour Office has for some years circulated warnings on hazardous processes which may be found in factories. For the Third World consumers, however, it was atthe 1970 Congress ofthe International Organisation of Consumers’ Unions that the Jamaican delegates made public their anger at the sale of substandard and badly labelled goods from the developed countries. But the gestation time was long and it wasn’t until 1981 that Consumer Interpol was launched. This is the first early warning system for ordinary consumers in the poor world; so far there are about 52 groups in 33 countries who are actively participating in the network. Consumer Interpol also links in with other coalitions working to protect the interests of buyers in the underdeveloped world - International Babyfood Action Network (concerned with curtailing the unethical promotion of infant formula), Health Action International (an informal grapevine of 200 groups working on pharmaceutical issues) and Pesticides Action Network (a grouping of 50 to 60 organisations campaigning for safer use of pesticides).

When Consumer Interpol members learn of a suspected hazard in their country they check it out in detail and, if convinced that the product or manufacturing process is treacherous, they notify the Consumer Interpol co-ordinator in Penang, sending corroborative evidence such as labels, press clippings, laboratory reports and so on.

Once the warning is received, the coordinator goes through the evidence scrupulously to ensure there are no errors. A panel of specialists on food, drugs, pesticides and consumer law is available to refer to if necessary. If the suspicion is confirmed then the coordinator sends out Consumer Alert notices to all groups in the network. The message beamed is quite clear: ‘Watch out for this product. Here is the evidence. If you find it in your country, contact the manufacturer or distributor and the government to seek controlling action. And make sure to let the press know what’s going on.

So far Consumer Interpol has sent out about 30 Alerts. These range from warnings about chocolate bars with a risk of causing botulism to painkilling drugs with serious side-effects. In November 1982 the coordinator sent out a rather unusual Alert about clioquinol-containing drugs. The Alert was unusual because the manufacturer had already announced that it would withdraw such drugs from the market after clioquinol had been linked with the nerve disease SMON. This announcement came some 12 years after the SMON had affected thousands in Japan and elsewhere. The manufacturer, Ciba-Geigy, had in fact already quietly withdrawn the drug from sophisticated Western markets but continued to allow it to be on sale in unregulated marketplaces in areas of the Third World where diarrhoea was endemic (see New Internationalist No. 95 for the full story).

The Alert was sent out not to mark a victory but the beginning of another phase of the long drawn-out struggle. For although Ciba-Geigy admitted that the drug ‘no longer reflects new trends in modern diarrhoeal disease control’ the complete withdrawal is to be phased over three to five years. The reason given is that apparently several countries want to go on using the drug.

One of the most significant results of the SMON catastrophe is that it has drawn together many people and consumer groups who are appalled at the double standards that exist whereby companies can continue to sell products in the underdeveloped world which have been withdrawn from Western markets. One thing’s for sure: if the SMON tragedy were to occur today, the action groups on this page would not allow a delay of over 12 years between the outbreak of the drug disaster and the announcement of its withdrawal.

The UN’s December 1982 Resolution (see box) on hazardous exports adds credibility and weight to Consumer Interpol’s cause. As IOCU President, Anwar Fazal, said in summing up the aims of this watchdog network ‘We hope that Consumer Interpol and the other citizens’ networks will work to reduce if not eliminate the violence, the waste and the manipulation that charactenses so much of our society’. The next few years will be a hard struggle against companies’ bad behaviour, but at least many groups are now lining up to join that fight.

For further details please write to:
Ms Foo Gaik Sim
, Consumer Interpol,
P0 Box 1045, Penang, Malaysia.

UN RESOLUTION

In December last year the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 37/137 to control the export of hazardous products to the Third World. This controversial resolution drew a voting consensus that made people rub their eyes and look again: 146 in favour and only one nation (the United States) against. Specifically the resolution urges:

. that products banned from domestic use or sale because of their potential harm can only be exported upon specific request from the importing country or when the sale or use of such products is officially permitted in the importing country.

. That for products which are severely restricted or non-approved in the domestic market the exporting country should make available full information on their potential harm.

. that the UN prepares and makes public a list of products whose consumption and/or sate has been banned, withdrawn or severely restricted. This list should provide full details of brand, generic/chemical names of all manufacturers and a reference to the grounds and decisions made by governments why such products have been banned, withdrawn or restricted. This list should be regularly updated.

The list is due to appear in December 1983. But according to Business Week in August only Kuwait and Canada have so far completed their submissions. Switzerland, the UK and other European countries are expected to do so shortly. However the US seems to be dragging its feet even though a State Department official was reported back in January as saying that the United States would provide information and cooperate with the UN in regard to the preparation of the list

Yet the US' interim response in July, from Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, spoke of ‘technical problems’ in applying the terms ‘banned’, ‘withdrawn', ‘severely restricted’ or ‘not approved’. She sta ted that ‘an attempt to list products in vaguely defined categories would over-simplify technically complex issues’. Despite this apparent stonewalling, Kirkpatrick declared that the US stands ready to provide assistance’. Ready perhaps, but maybe not willing.

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...and how you can help
These are some of the action groups whose work complements that of Consumer Interpol. Some of them produce newsletters and all of them would welcome readers’ interest and participation. Please write directly to them for further details of their work.

Bureau Européen de l’Environment
rue Vautier
B - 1040 Brussels, Belgium

Bureau Européen des Unions des Consommateurs (BEUC)
rue Royale 29
B - 1 Brussels, Belgium

Consuming Interest
Australian Consumers’ Association
26 Queen Street
Chippendale 2008, NSW, Australia
Publication: Consuming Interest

Declaration of Bern
Gartenhofstrasse 27
8004 Zurich, Switzerland

Federal Congress of Development Action Groups (BYKO)
Dritte Welt Haus
August Bebel Strasse 62
D-4800 Bielefeld 1
West Germany

Health Action International (HAl)
P0 Box 1045
Penang, Malaysia

Inter-Faith Centre on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR)
475 Riverside Drive, Room 566 New York, NY 10115, USA

International Coalition for Development Action (ICDA)
22 rue des Bollandistes
1040 Brussels, Belgium

International Development Research Centre (IDRC)
P0 Box 8500
Ottawa, Canada, K1G 3H9

Investor Responsibility Research Centre Inc. (IRRC)
Suite 900
1319 F Street NW
Washington, DC 20004, USA

Pesticides Action Network (PAN)
P0 Box 1045
Penang, Malaysia

Public Affairs Unit
Oxfam
274 Banbury Road
Oxford, UK

Side Effects
P0 Box 123
Leura 2781, NSW, Australia

Pollution Probe
12 Madison Avenue
Toronto
Ontario M5R 2S1
Publication: Probe Post

Counter Information Services
9 Poland Street
London Wi
Publication: CIS Anti Reports

British Society for Social Responsibility in Science
9 Poland Street
London W1V 3DG, UK
Publication: Science for People

Public Citizen Health Research Group
2000 P Street NW
Washington DC, 20036
USA

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Worth reading on... DUMPING

The Corporate Crime of the Century.
By Mark Dowie and staff of Mother Jones magazine: 1663 Mission Street, San Francisco, Ca. 94103, November 1979. Award-winning expose of dumping scandals, this important edition played a part in President Carter’s move to curb hazardous exports.

Hazards for Export.
By Bob Wyrick: Newsday Inc., Long Island, New York 11747, December 1981. A tapestry of dumping cases, interviews with industry spokesmen and Third World victims. Good journalism, combined with on-the-spot interviews, facts and analysis.

Insult or Injury.
By Charles Medawar; SocialAudit, London 1979. Enquiry into the marketing of British food and drugs products overseas and matching this with the needs of low-income consumers.

Bitter Pills - Medicines and the Third World poor.
By Diana Me/rose; Oxfam Public Affairs Unit, 1982. Well-researched study of the drug industry and the Third World, also looking at health policy initiatives in Bangladesh and other countries.

Circle of Poison - Pesticides and People in a Hungry World.
By Weirand Mark Scizapiro; Institute of Food and Development Policy, 2588 Mission Street, San Francisco, Ca 94110, 1981. Follows the globe-circling trail of sickness and death resulting from use of pesticides restricted or banned in the US.

Underhand but over-the-counter - The Global Trade in Dangerous Products.
Kit of materialsfrom the Regional Office of the International Organisation of Consumers’ Unions, P0 Box 1045, Penang, Malaysia, 1983. Contains case studies, illustrations and photos plus ‘Consumer Interpol Handbook’ which gives background to dumping and IOCU’s response in setting up a watchdog network. Good ideas for action. Price US$10.00 (including postage).

A Growing Problem.
By David Bull; Oxfam Public Affairs Unit, 1982. Thoroughly documented report on pesticides covering pest resistance, advertising and the integrated pest management alternative.

Pills, Pesticides and Profits - The International Trade in Toxic Substances.
Edited by Ruth Norris; North River Press Inc., Box 241, Croton on Hudson, New York 10520, 1982. Useful facts on chemicals trade as well as section on exported industries and toxic wastes. Includes transcripts of two films on the subject.


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